November 16, 2015

The sound of an orchestra tuning up signals the start of “Good for Otto,” the new play by David Rabe having its premiere at the small Gift Theater here. It’s a smart touch from the director, Michael Patrick Thornton, for Mr. Rabe’s moving drama does have a symphonic quality, although an apt analogy would be mournful Shostakovich rather than something jubilantly lyrical from, say, Schubert. As exciting as it can be to discover fresh new voices, it can be just as heartening to see a veteran playwright return to powerful form, as Mr. Rabe unquestionably does in this sprawling drama about mental illness. (The play is based on material from the book “Undoing Depression,” by Richard O’Connor.) With an amplitude that almost overwhelms — the play, with a 15-member cast, runs a full three hours — Mr. Rabe digs into his subject with a depth that almost feels bottomless. The expansiveness at times can be a little oppressive — we are still meeting new people with new problems late in the first act — but the play’s near-epic nature is integral to its strength. We come to share, in a small way, the sense of laboring under an unbearable burden that plagues the central character, a counselor and administrator at a mental health clinic in the Berkshires.